In the winter of 1739, Georg Steller received word from Empress Anna of Russia that he was to embark on a secret expedition to the far reaches of Siberia as a member of the Great Northern Expedition. While searching for economic possibilities and strategic advantages, Steller was to send back descriptions of everything he saw. The Empress's instructions were detailed, from requests for a preserved whale brain to observing the child-rearing customs of local peoples, and Steller met the task with dedication, bravery, and a good measure of humour. In the name of science, Steller and his comrades confronted horse-swallowing bogs, leapt across ice floes, and survived countless close calls in their exploration of an unforgiving environment. Not stopping at lists of fishes, birds, and mammals, Steller also details the villages and the lives of those living there, from vice-governors to prostitutes. His writings rail against government corruption and the misuse of power while describing with empathy the lives of the poor and forgotten, with special attention toward Native peoples.
What emerges is a remarkable window into life – both human and animal – in 18th century Siberia. Due to the secret nature of the expedition, Steller's findings were hidden in Russian archives for centuries, but the near-daily entries he recorded on journeys from the town of Irkutsk to Kamchatka are presented here in English for the first time.
Foreword: The Steller Legacy / Jonathan C. Slaght
Instructions for Georg Wilhelm Steller from February 18, 1739, from Yeniseysk / Johann Georg Gmelin and Gerhard Friedrich Müller
Part I: Description of Irkutsk and Its Surroundings
1. About Irkutsk and Its Surroundings
2. About Irkutsk Itself
3. About the Public Offices
4. About the Clergy
5. About the Chinese Trade and Chinese Trade Goods
6. About Customs and Lifestyle in Irkutsk
7. About Transbaikalia
8. Report from the Uda River
Part II: Travel Journal from Irkutsk to Kamchatka
9. From Irkutsk to Ust'Ilginskaya (3/4-13)
10. From Ust'Ilginskaya to Kirensk (3/14-5/1)
11. From Kirensk to Yakutsk (5/2-24)
12. In Yakutsk and Yarmanka (5/25-6/19)
13. From Yarmanka to the Amga River (6/20-7/2)
14. From the Amga to the Yuna River (7/3-21)
15. From the Yuna River to Yudoma Cross (7/22-8/8)
16. From Yudoma Cross to Okhotsk (8/9-13)
17. In Okhotsk (8/14-26)
18. Salmon Fishing and Preserving (8/27)
19. From Okhotsk to Bol'sheretsk (8/28-9/16)
Appendix A: Georg Wilhelm Steller's Life 11-20 – '18
Appendix B: Schnurbuch Account Ledger
Appendix C: Letter to Johann Daniel Schumacher
Appendix D: Plants Named After Steller
Glossary of Foreign Words
Glossary of People
Georg Wilhelm Steller was a German scientist who lived from 1709 to 1746, and worked as a botanist, zoologist, and physician. He was part of the second crew for the Great Northern Expedition.
Margritt A. Engel is Professor Emerita of Languages at the University of Alaska Anchorage. She is translator of Journal of a Voyage with Bering, 1741–1742 and Steller's History of Kamchatka.
Karen E. Willmore is Professor Emerita of Languages at the University of Alaska Anchorage. She is translator of Steller's History of Kamchatka.
Jonathan C. Slaght is the Russia and Northeast Asia Coordinator for the Wildlife Conservation Society. He is editor and translator (with Vladimir K. Arsenyev) of Across the Ussuri Kray: Travels in the Sikhote-Alin Mountains and author of Owls of the Eastern Ice: The Quest to Find and Save the World's Largest Owl.
"A wonderful report on Eastern Siberia from the early 18th century, this is a major addition to the primary literature on Steller, the naturalist-explorer who was too busy doing comprehensive research and died too early on his return trip from Kamchatka to have his portrait painted or even drawn. This volume will stand out for its quality and rich detail in years to come."
– Han F. Vermeulen, author of Before Boas: The Genesis of Ethnography and Ethnology in the German Enlightenment
"Whether he is jumping ice floes, drying out by a fire, glimpsing the soaring aurora borealis, or mired in mud, traveling with Steller as he botanizes his way across Siberia is part wilderness adventure, part open air museum visit, and a valuable historical window into the early eighteenth-century. Watching this Enlightenment scholar working to understand the unknown Eurasian space is engaging reading throughout; Engel and Willmore have done a great service in making this fascinating text available in English."
– Erika Monahan, author of The Merchants of Siberia: Trade in Early Modern Eurasia
"Steller had a practiced eye for distinguishing the most important characteristics of plants. And he must have had an extraordinary memory, because he could remember if he had already seen a plant species and thus recognize those species that were new to the scientific community. During the very short time of two and a half months in 1739, he recorded over 1,050 plant species. Today Steller's works are considered of particular interest from the standpoint of human-caused changes to the flora because they provide a baseline against which the present distribution and frequency of plants can be measured, as well as the first appearance of invasive species. Eastbound through Siberia not only showcases Steller the botanist but also reveals him as an admirable human being with a great sense of humor who managed to keep an upbeat attitude in the most trying circumstances."
– Eckehart J. Jäger
"The lengthy treks of Vitus Bering's expeditions across Siberia on the way to and from the Sea of Okhotsk have always been overshadowed by the discoveries in the Pacific. Yet they are important in their own right. This meticulous translation of a rich ethnographic source produced by an exceptional observer of the natural world makes an important contribution to our understanding of eastern Siberia in the eighteenth century."
– Ilya Vinkovetsky
"Eastbound through Siberia is a significant contribution to the body of travel literature on Russia, in particular because it is so early and covers eastern Siberia (British travel literature, for example, is only extensive after the 1770s and predominantly covers European Russia). The Second Kamchatka expedition was important for charting unknown territory and Steller was a prominent member of that expedition."
– Janet Hartley, author of Siberia: A History of the People
"Eastbound through Siberia, a work newly translated to English by two emerita language professors from the University of Alaska Anchorage, adds fascinating details to the life of Steller and his travels and discoveries just before joining Bering in Kamchatka to set sail [...] This new addition to understanding the life of Steller and 18th-century conditions in Siberia will be welcomed by historians, ethnographers, naturalists and armchair adventurers."
– Nancy Lord, Anchorage Daily News